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So you're looking to spook yourself with the best horror games you can play on PC. Whether you're into jump scares, interactive fiction, thematically interesting stories or just large men running after you with a chainsaw, we've included a wide variety of games that'll hopefully freak you the hell out. Enjoy.
Like our lists of best strategy games or best FPS games, we tried to focus on a variety of horror experiences that still hold up well today, though we've expanded the remit slightly to include a few retro curios as well.
What starts as a bold, scary reboot certainly gets closer to the more recent action-oriented entries in its later chapters, but exploring the Baker family's grimy plantation in Resident Evil 7 is a grisly treat. The detail of this setting is amazing, and in the first half of the game, there's such a sense of the unknown that you're cautiously poking around every corner and treating bullets like they're gold. Resi 7's videotapes, which have you play out-of-context asides shedding more light on the Baker family and the story, offer the game's best and most experimental moments.
Resi 7 is close to the original intent of Resi, but we kept the HD version of the original on this list too because they're both fantastic in their own way.
An unrelentingly bleak platformer that puts you through a gauntlet of hellish imagery: creepy mermaids, security robots, people hunting you down, nasty weather and more that we won't spoil here. Its vision of a cruel dystopian world that's out to kill you at all times is extraordinary, even if the moment-to-moment platforming is pretty familiar and can be frustrating. You're mainly playing it to experience the setting, really.
See also Little Nightmares, a similar type of horror platformer that isn't as scary but is arguably just as inventive.
In this anthology game, you operate a computer within the game: first playing an old horror text adventure game set in a spooky house, and later performing similar interactions in other locations, including a lab and a station in freezing conditions. How these episodes link together is the game's overarching mystery, but it's the way the surrounding environment changes with the story beats that'll shit you up here. Stories Untold is co-developed by Alien: Isolation UI mastermind Jon McKellan, and a lot of that DNA is present here. Plus, it'll only take you a few hours to beat, and it's a very reasonable $10 on Steam.
As a trial-and-error stealth game, Outlast 2 might not be for everyone, but thematically it's among the more interesting games on this list. Playing as a journalist searching for a missing woman in Arizona, your wife is then kidnapped early on by a deranged cult, the origins of which are told through snippets of letters during the game. You navigate dark environments using the night vision mode of your camera, and it's just scary as heck, with a whole village wanting you dead and some of the most gruelling imagery ever put into a game.
Before BioShock was BioShock, it was System Shock: an altogether freakier combination of RPG and FPS, and one that in its second (and best) iteration told the story of a rogue AI on a haunted spaceship—that rogue AI being the incomparably uppercase SHODAN. The murderous artificial consciousness paved the way for GlaDOS of course, but its the combination of meaningful character advancement, rewarding exploration, horrifying enemies and (at the time) the novel use of audio diaries that make System Shock 2 such a memorable horror game. It was essentially Deus Ex on a spaceship—if you've ever played Deus Ex, or been on a spaceship, you can imagine how delectable that sounds.
Don't be put off by IMSCARED's rather tedious "A Pixelated Nightmare" tagline—it is easily one of the most unsettling games available today. But it's also a tough one to pitch, because much of its terror lies in the surprises that shouldn't be ruined by a meagre 150 word-long recommendation. Know that it borrows from 90's horror games via its aesthetic and fourth wall-breaking, file-bothering makeup; and that it consistently strives to surprise and keep players guessing. Understand that it'll play with your emotions, and drop you into a confused and confusing world while incessantly goading you till its final breath. Don't expect jump scares, but do expect to be scared enough to jump from your chair. The 2012 of IMSCARED is free, while the full, extended version is cheap as chips over on . If you think we're at all grandstanding here, please be our guest and give it a try. We'll be hiding behind the couch.
A rhythm action nightmare in which you play a silver beetle speeding down a track into the mouth of a huge demented boss head. Death comes quickly. Miss a couple of turns and you're dashed into a million glittering pieces against the courses metal banks. Miss a beat in the gaze of the ring-shaped guard robots and they'll hurtle towards you, lasers blazing. All the while the ambient soundtrack pulses uneasily and the the rhythms become faster, and more erratic. The effect is one of tense, compressed dread. Probably best to play it in short bursts only.
We can all agree that Silent Hill 2 is the best in the series, and although Konami have never made much of an effort with the PC versions, if you factor in mods and texture/resolution tweaks this is probably the best way to play it these days—even if prices for the (extremely rare) retail copies can be pretty extortionate. It was the first game to really push the idea of horror narratives as subjective, fluid and untrustworthy things, with a story that invites interpretation and a semi-sentient city that warps and shifts itself to fit the damaged psyches of its inhabitants. The confusing cult nonsense of the first and third games was pushed to the backburner for the more personal story of a psychologically damaged widower battling his way through a foggy purgatory populated by zombie-things, dog-things, and whatever the hell Pyramid Head was.
Whereas the likes of Silent Hill and Fatal Frame rely on radios to alert players to otherworldly adversaries, Sylvio uses sound, EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) and audio manipulation as its central ideas. Not only that, the game builds its entire gorgeously creepy world around this principle theme as players strive to uncover its backstories, bizarre plot twists, and insights into its unsettling unknown—all of which is backed up by some stellar voice acting. Generic first-person horror this ain't, and while it does occasionally force tedious combat set pieces upon players, it thrives in its quirky, idiosyncratic moments that are filled with atmosphere and character and dread. Sylvio is a thinking game and is unique within the horror genre.
Horror games owe a significant debt to one Howard Phillips Lovecraft, and not just because he's long dead and his work is out of copyright. Plenty of games have included references to his unique brand of cosmic horror, but Anchorhead is more inspired than most, drawing from several of his novels and stories to tell the tale of the a married couple who have inherited an old mansion in a creepy New England town. The sedate exploration of the game's opening segments eventually give way to tense, turn-limited puzzles as you struggle to stop an ancient, possibly world-ending ritual from being completed. No pressure then. It's free, and you can .
The Dark Descent casts you as Daniel, an amnesiac who wakes up in a mostly deserted castle that must be explored in search of escape. Frictional draw on all of their experience creating atmospheric, exploratory horror in the Penumbra series to fill Amnesia's fortress with an oppressive and lingering sense of foreboding. Expect distant echoing noises, strange rumbles behind the walls, and to start seeing half-formed dark figures in the ambiguous candlelight. There's a monster, too, stalking you through the corridors. The perennial rule of horror creatures—that they're less scary once you've seen and understood them—certainly applies here, but Dark Descent is still a must-play horror game.
You won't find scripted jump scares here. Dark Souls is a lonely, gruelling struggle through a world on the verge of being extinguished. Lordran is a sad and horrifying place to be. You catch glimpses of the gods' old glory, but mostly you're confronting the aftermath of their terrible mistakes, whether it's the nightmare of the Bed of Chaos or the gross parasite eggs of Demon Ruins. The PC port is poor, but most of its visual shortcomings have been solved by the modding community. Start with the and pick and choose from the to get the game into shape.
Dead Space's lanky alien monsters are noteworthy not just for their ability to fit into tiny closets and jump out at passing protagonists, but for the satisfying fragility of their narrow, bony limbs. Dead Space's high concept, back in the first game, was that you're a simple engineer tending to a broken ship, rather than a meaty space marine with miniguns coming out of his chest. Better still, the cutting and cleaving tools your engineer is so practiced with ended up being more rewarding than the traditional machine guns and shotguns of your typical FPS. Worryingly, foes react differently when you snip off certain limbs—a headshot may only make them madder. Oh, there's a batty plot about an alien obelisk that sends people insane, a space cult, and other nonsense. Don't worry about that too much, the room-to-room stalking is super-tense in spite of the flimsy story. Dead Space classic piece of linear horror design that still holds up.
Poor Pripyat just can't catch a break. In real life it's been abandoned since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. In Stalker, it also suffers the indignity of corrupted anomalies and invisible monsters. The entire series has focused on a harsh and desperate struggle for survival. You may be seeking valuable anomalies and treasure, but first you'll need to secure the basics: food, bandages, and weapons. Occasionally you'll enjoy the companionship of fellow travellers around a campfire, but for the most part your exploration of the open world will feel oppressive and lonely. Call of Pripyat is the best and most technically competent game in the series, but the original Shadow of Chernobyl is also worth a look. Don't miss the Stalker: Lost Alpha—Director's Cut, either.
Is anyone still scared of zombies? Sure, they're creepy—there's something intrinsically unsettling about a vacant sack of human flesh—but when is the last time you felt visceral, gut-wrenching fear in the presence of the horde? Blood, guts, and realistic subsurface glistening just don't do it any more. Telltale's The Walking Dead forgoes the anatomy lesson for something more harrowing. The eponymous dead are extras in a bleak human drama, a handy plot device to prompt the fall of society and watch what happens when people break. Those people, all well-written and interesting characters, make for a more immediate, more believable horror story. The Walking Dead could be real, a plausible portrayal of a world going to hell, and that is scary indeed.
Phantasmagoria is the most infamous horror adventure of the interactive movie age, but that's only because almost nobody played the infinitely gorier, endlessly more disturbing Harvester. You wake up with amnesia in a messed up 50s town, where mothers pop their babies' eyeballs, the paperboy packs a gun, the local teachers deals discipline with a baseball bat at Gein Memorial High School, and nobody bats an eye at the wasp woman down the street. All you know is that unless you join the mysterious Lodge in the middle of town, you're not going to last the week—one that ends in an involuntary blood drive where the nurse uses a scythe. Then things get really weird. It's a tough game to find legitimately, but check out our on it for more.
Pathologic is ugly and broken. It will sit on your hard-drive like a gangrenous limb, in need of amputation. If this sounds like a criticism, it isn't. Beyond the dirty, putrefied atmosphere, Pathologic is also weird and theatrical, frequently breaking the fourth wall and questioning your role as the player. You choose one of three characters, each with their own mysterious past. Afterwards, masked figures explain the rules of the game: that you have twelve days to cure the town of its disease, and that time will progress regardless of your actions. As it slips by, you'll have to pick your goals wisely, gathering resources and helping characters in the hope of slowing the inexorable decay. Whatever your choice, the town continues to rot, and the game builds towards its horrific conclusion.
It's being remade and expanded, in Pathologic 2, but you can also grab the HD edition of the original on Steam.
The Silent Hill series does creepy mannequins well, but nowhere near as well as Condemned: Criminal Origins. The premise is quite simple: there's a serial killer on the loose, you're a crime scene investigator, and people expect you to catch him. What's less straightforward is how quickly agent Ethan Thomas takes to cold-blooded murder—even considering the entire populace of Metro City appears to have it in for him. Nonetheless, while Condemned: Criminal Origins offers frontman Thomas a range of firearms, he seems happy enough to do his crowd controlling by way of melee weaponry, each of which has its own distinct feel in close-quarters combat. With that, Condemned rarely pulls any punches—it knows what it is and is happy doing so from start to finish. It's now somehow ten years old, but it holds up well today.
Reasons to be interested in this survival horror can be boiled down to just two words: Shinji Mikami, the designer responsible for Resident Evil (the good ones), God Hand and Vanquish, the latter of which have criminally never punched and rocket-boosted their way to PC. The Evil Within is his grand return to horror. Expect to spend a fair bit of time hiding from chainsaw-wielding psychopaths, shooting and burning lumbering zombie-likes and laying traps. And a follow-up is on the way, with multiple routes through levels and a story that's a little Silent Hill 2-esque.
Frictional Games has already appeared in this roundup, and that's because time and time again they've proven that they know horror—first in the Penumbra games, and then again in Amnesia. Soma is their latest first-person scare-'em-up, full of creepy experiments, creepier blinking computer-things, and exchanges that question the nature of humanity and consciousness. There are disturbing monsters too, though you can switch those off with a Steam Workshop mod if you want to.
Similar to Stalker featured earlier in this list, Metro 2033 visits a post-apocalyptic, nuclear war-ravaged world that's filled with mutated abominations—the vast majority of which seek to harm you. Here, the year is 2033, 20 years after Russia fell victim to nuclear war. Moscow's surface is now too dangerous to explore, therefore much of the game takes place within its interweaving subway system and a hostile group named the Dark Ones stalks the player and their pals. Admittedly, Metro 2033, like Stalker, leans towards the action genre however while much of its scare factor is tied to running out of supplies and/or ammo, there's something truly unsettling about its post-nuclear war premise—that perhaps because this sort of scenario could happen, it becomes scarier? Maybe it's simply the fact the Dark Ones are bloody terrifying.
The slim, suited menace known as Slenderman started life as a forum meme, and has quickly grown into a horror series. His schtick is simple, but terrifying enough. If you look directly at him, he devours you, but when you look away he can move position instantly in an attempt to trick your gaze. You have to collect eight notes from a dark forest as the demon hunts you. The free downloadable version, , has inspired a wealth of YouTube Let's Play videos, because it turns out it's almost as fun to watch Slender's potent psychological terror inflicted on others as it is to endure it yourself. Its popularity encouraged Blue Isle studios and Parsec productions to create a prettier version called Slender: The Arrival, which is available for $10 on , and has bonus Oculus Rift support for VR terror.
The best Alien game ever, by a long way, Isolation stars the smartest, scariest enemy in any game. The Xenomorph's killer instinct is matched only by its curiosity. It learns more about the Sevastopol's nooks and crannies as it hunts you over the course of 12 hours, ripping doors off closets and peering under tables in search of prey. The motion tracker can help you to avoid its grasp, but it can sense the sound, and even the gentle green light of its screen, making every glance a risk. When the game forces you into the vents and you can hear the creature in there with you, Isolation becomes one of the scariest games ever made.
Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos should be a ripe playground for gaming scares. It rarely works out like that; the fiction often put to use in ways that fail to convey the sheer magnitude of its ancient and maddening horror. Despite the bugs and the clunkiness, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is a first-person survival horror that both stays true to its source, and provides a multitude of ideas through its many and varied levels. You'll go from escaping an assassination, to being hunted by cultists, to fighting off Shoggoths and Deep Ones.
FEAR is a better shooter than a horror game, but is worthy of note for referencing Asian cinema with its creepy villain, Alma, a little girl who can rip people apart with her thoughts. FEAR also exploited the first person perspective to create jump-scares, using ladders and narrow corridors to funnel the player's view through a rollercoaster of linear frights. You catch glimpses of Alma in the corner of a room as lightbulbs shatter, you'll suddenly see her feet at the top of a ladder as you descend, and there's a gratuitous corridor of blood, because The Shining deserves a nod every now and then. First person horror techniques have been honed into a more concentrated horror experience by games like Outlast, but FEAR does let you pin clone soldiers to walls with a stake gun, and kick them in the face in slow motion as they scream “FUUUUUUU” in a low-pitched, slurry expression of terror. The psychological horror themes persisted in FEAR's sequels—FEAR 2: Project Origin and FEAR 3.
The tank controls and pre-baked backgrounds hint at Resi's age, but it's a survival horror classic nonetheless, and received a handsome in early 2015. The famous Resi mansion drips with atmosphere, and hides some top-drawer jump scares—when crows come crashing through a window, it makes every future trip down that corridor especially tough. The giant spiders are hideous and the relentless threat of the mansion's zombie population grinds down your spirit and your health bar. Soon you're a limping picture of pain and regret, searching for the octagonal object you need to go in the octagonal slot. What a nightmare.
Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives and PC miscellany. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.>
I have a limited patience for scary games. I enjoy a surprise jump-scare here and there, but I struggle to enjoy an incessant barrage of them making every step an anxiety-inducing moment. And yet, wow, I love Amnesia. … [visit site to read more]
I really don’t want to die. Someday I will, though, and it will probably suck. I worry about drowning, being burned alive, bears having me for dinner (it happens where I’m from), or tripping and bashing my head open on a gumball machine—and most popular horror games are good at turning those fears, other than the gumball one, into palpable threats. But in focusing so much on depicting the act of dying, they ignore why I’m scared of dying.
Games are good at delivering terror. They specialize in the apprehension that precedes an awful revelation. But once you’ve died, which is the horrific revelation part, suddenly there’s no longer anything to anticipate, and therefore nothing to be terrified of. Death becomes a certainty, and in traditional try-again games, it’s making the experience far less scary than it could be.
In , I said that its “commitment to building such a disorienting horror simulation is as admirable as it is annoying.” Most scenes take about five deaths to figure out. Five deaths is enough to see a monster, learn its simple AI routine, and memorize your escape route as well as your walk home from work. Since you know that finishing the game requires staying alive until the end, the overarching narrative tension also loses strength. And because you can die and restart at the last checkpoint, those spooky punches lose more of their sting with each attempt. Sure, sometimes you’ll get a grisly animation, and if getting your dick split in half over and over can sustain your interest here into oblivion, great. But even Resident Evil 7, which starts off with some of the best innovations in horror game history, falls into the same shoot or hide or die death trap over time.
Popular horror games in the same style know how to tap into fleeting dick-splitting fears and often confront deeper psychological fears in their overarching themes, but the threat of death and repetition is still the dull captain steering the tension. It’s about time they stop trying so hard to kill us.
Death has always been games' most popular punishment. You can fail to perform a task and in the fiction of the world, die. Bummer! Back to the last checkpoint. Threatening the player with lost time through death is an easy way to build tension, but the tension is entirely detached from the fiction. There’s no time to focus on the monsters chasing us.
During my second playthrough of Frictional Games' SOMA, I installed a mod called “Wuss Mode” that turns off predatory enemy AI. Instead of sneaking around the monsters, I got to know them—and yeah, . I watched them lumber around each environment like blind dogs. I didn’t feel physically threatened, but in observing the creatures, I started to sympathize with them. Like Frankenstein's monster, they were only dangerous in appearance, fearsome only in their most recognizable human qualities. What were they thinking? Why were they thinking? I had time to consider SOMA’s headier themes on what it means to be alive, to be a human. I was fine the first time I played it, but without obligatory videogame baddies shoving me through the experience, I soaked it in like a good novel, pausing on moving passages at will.
I still felt scared, not because I was being bludgeoned with a biomechanical arm, but because because I was confronted with some awful, scary truths about the nature of life. There’s terror in the build up towards a horrific revelation in finding out what the monsters represent, and uninterrupted time to reflect those ideas back onto myself. Consciousness, man. What even is that stuff? Hell if I know. And that’s scary enough. Some of the best horror games are built around the same idea, of producing horror without death as a system.
But some just want to be schlocky fun, a ride through some spooks and gore and dim hallways. That’s all good and wholesome, but the issue remains: death and repetition are still a tedious, emotional dead end. If they’re a necessary part of the experience, how can games sustain interest and scares five attempts in?
What games like Outlast 2 and Amnesia get wrong is often cited as their boldest design choice: putting limitations on or completely removing combat. I don’t mean to say that I want to kill every enemy in those games, but restricting players to a tiny set of interactions is also a good way to stunt their creativity. If the enemies are on full alert and I’m stuck hiding, I only have two primary options: sneak or run. Chances are I’ll die doing both, and I’ll need to make several attempts to learn patrol routes or where to sprint next to trigger a checkpoint.
I can’t pick up an errant plank and bash a cultist over the head with it or grab a torch and light an oil drum on fire as a distraction—there’s no incentive to being clever and terror only works if you don’t know where the boogeyman is hiding. But as opposed to one right way and one wrong way to navigate an area, taking a more systems-driven approach to horror game design can give you a dozen ways to get through with style, 10 ways to barely scrape by, and countless ways to screw up and die.
In Dishonored 2, if I’m backed into a corner, I can still improvise an escape plan. Maybe I toss a bucket to distract and then swan dive into my doppleganger from six stories up. Or possess a guard, hop to a rat, and scurry away. It’s not the perfect example because it turns the player into a clever god, but still makes me wonder what a horror version of such a system-focused game would look like.
Imagine one that has the kind of player freedom that enables , but instead of killing dozens of guards, you knock over a stack of books in the library to throw the monster off your tail. Then you sneak up and stab it with a broken broomstick, which permanently slows the monster down, giving you time to cover yourself in mud to hide your scent or build construct some combustible traps out of found objects in the workshop.
With that kind of systemic variety, something like Resident Evil 7 sequel where the burglars want to eat your face. I’d love nothing more than to see Jack react to a barrage of swinging paint cans to the mug.
The more options a player has to evade a threat, then the more deaths can be justifiably blamed on the lack of player ingenuity rather than narrow level design or failing to do the prescribed sprint-and-stealth dance. To be clear, the kind of systems I’m suggesting should not make the player feel more powerful than their pursuer. They just need to provide more exit routes and the chance to think creatively in desperate moments. I just want to run through a few more options before going with ‘die and try again.’ I want to feel solely responsible for my survival and I want surviving to be a new process every time.
Still, the problem of the horrific revelation remains. When the player dies and gets to try again, smart systems can make terror renewable, but what about the comedown after you see the monster? And what if it backs you into a corner, helpless? Should that be game over? If terror can be a renewable resource, then so can horror.
While I don’t consider it to be the second coming of survival horror so many do, Resident Evil 7’s first few hours house some of the best ideas for dealing with death I’ve seen in popular horror games. All videogames have the death problem, convinced that as soon as a bad guy gets you, they’ll just kill you and call it a day. A villain that just murders as quickly and efficiently as possible is a boring one.
Jack Baker, the first monster you meet in Resident Evil 7, is a more complex, charismatic dude than a tag-‘em-and-bag-‘em killer looking to just clock out for the day. He’s the kind of guy who wants to take his time. He calls out your name like a schoolyard bully, compares you to a pig and summons you for dinner, grins and laughs and stares directly at you from across the room. And he never outright sprints for you, opting for a steady, brisk walk as if your end is already assured.
When Jack does catch you, the majority of deaths end with a gruesome animation and a game over screen—the terror falls off and diminishes as we start again. But during a few specific instances, death is not the end.
Early on, Jack can corner you in a room behind the kitchen and knock you to the floor after which he chops off your leg with a shovel. You can pick up your leg and add it to your inventory, which you’ll need to do if you want to survive. And that’s the surprise, that you can survive the whole ordeal. In any other game, I’d expect to just bleed out (and you can), but Jack crosses the room, crouches, and taunts you with a bottle of healing medicine.
If you manage to crawl over and grab the bottle, you can put your leg back in place, pour some magic medicine on it, and watch it fuse back together. You put your goddamn leg back on. And then Jack slams his shovel down, let’s you know daddy’s coming, and the chase is back on.
These scenes, rare as they are, all teach the player that Jack is a true madman. They also inform you about the state of the world (and strange regenerative state of Ethan, the main character), as well as delivering a punchy horror scene. When I watched my leg fuse mend and then heard Jack coming for me again, I was terrified of him as a person and horrified of what he might be capable of. He was no longer strictly a walking game over state.
Death, like horror tropes in film, can and should be subverted in order to maintain tension before and after scares take place. Players shouldn’t be able to predict what happens before or after they shake hands with a threat, be it a monster or a man or a bunny with vampire teeth. Horror games are best when they strive to stay unfamiliar, and in adopting a familiar die-and-try-again videogame death system, they’re knocking the wind out of their scares already before anyone presses start.
For more on horror, check out list of the best horror games on PC, our list of the horror game clichés that need to stop, and our hands-on impressions of Serious Metal Detecting, which isn't a horror game but playing it is like staring into a dark mirror and feeling nothing, forever and always.